Anyone who has ever been responsible for the well-being of a toddler will recognise the dynamic all too well. “If you carry on refusing to eat your lunch you will have to go on to the naughty step”… child refuses to eat lunch… child is astonished to find themselves on the naughty step.
The big difference between a toddler and Jeremy Corbyn, though, is that a toddler is capable – over time – of learning that actions have consequences. The former Labour leader shows no sign of similar personal growth.
Yesterday saw the publication of the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into anti-Jewish racism in the Labour Party. The report is damning – despite what some diehard Corbynites are claiming – and it confirms that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership antisemitism was allowed to run rife among Labour members and supporters. It confirms that Corbyn’s leadership wrongly interfered with investigations in complaints, that a culture of downplaying Jewish people’s concerns existed, that victims were ignored and attacked.
This could have been a very difficult moment for the new Labour leader, Keir Starmer. After all, he was a senior figure in the previous shadow cabinet. He campaigned to make his party the government of his country despite knowing – presumably – that his party could not really be wholly trusted when it came to Jewish people. And he faced the real difficulty of having to apologise without the benefit of any real action to demonstrate his sincerity. You can’t magic institutional discrimination away overnight – just ask the Metropolitan Police.
But, with all the strategic foresight of a two year old who is hungry but doesn’t want to eat his lunch, Jeremy Corbyn rescued his successor from a day of awkward and apologetic anti-climax.
By rejecting the report, by claiming that aspects of it were exaggerations, by casting himself as the victim of factional conspiracy; Corbyn proved the EHRC’s point and gave the Labour Party little option but to suspend him. For Starmer this is something of a gift. It demonstrates – in the starkest possible way – that he means it when he trots out his ‘under new leadership’ slogan. It tells the Jewish community that he is serious about mending relations. It shows the media and political commentariat that he possesses the ruthlessness that was so lacking in, say, Ed Miliband. Not bad for an event that Starmer claims he tried to avoid, by warning Corbyn in advance that such a tantrum would have real consequences.
The hardcore Left are – naturally – very angry about all this. High profile Corbyn supporters have been meeting in councils of war to decide how to fight back. Dark threats are muttered. Civil war is foreseen.
But a letter demanding Corbyn’s immediate reinstatement – supposed to be signed by 20-30 MPs has so far failed to materialise. Presumably because at least a few of those MPs, loyal to Jeremy as they may be, worry that their ruthless new leader might give them the boot too.
Because, and this is the real point, you can’t at once accept the EHRC’s report and demand the reinstatement of Corbyn. It is one or the other. The EHRC found that Corbyn and those around him used political conspiracy theories to downplay antisemitism – to the real detriment of Jewish people. Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn used political conspiracy theories to downplay antisemitism. Like a toddler on a loop, unable to help himself. But without the winning cherubic smile or the expectation of progress.
A sad and difficult day for Labour, then. And one of vindication for many Jewish Labour members and their friends and supporters. And also one that lands a stark lesson for the unreconstructed Corbynites. Keir Starmer is in charge now. Polling today shows his Labour Party has a five point lead over the Tories. And he is not as frightened of the Labour Left as they thought and hoped. And as Corbyn so ably and exhaustingly once demonstrated himself: Labour leaders are very, very difficult to dislodge. No matter how many tantrums you throw.